Betty Lou Beets: The Black Widow Who Shot 3 Husbands, Ran Down A Fourth

Betty Lou Beets [Texas Department of Criminal Justice]

HUNTSVILLE, TX — On February 24, 2000, Betty Lou Beets took her place on the execution gurney at the Texas State Penitentiary.

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Seventeen years had passed since Betty Lou fatally pumped two .38-caliber slugs into Jimmy Don Beets — her fifth husband and the third spouse she shot (she ran down another one down with a car).

At last, the reckoning of capital punishment was upon her. The 62-year-old Beets requested no final meal and she made no final statement. Nothing out of the ordinary occurred as she succumbed to the state-ordered lethal injection.

The moment stood in stark contrast to the wild life that led Betty Lou Beets to those final moments.

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Black Widow Betty Lou Beets By Alice Waters cover image [Amazon]

Black Widow Betty Lou Beets By Alice Waters cover image [Amazon]

Born Betty Lou Duvena in 1937, the future mother of six grew up in North Carolina and Virginia. Childhood measles impaired Beets’ hearing for the rest of her life. When she was just 12 years old, authorities institutionalized Beets’ mother for mental illness. Thereafter, Betty Lou had to run the house and raise her younger siblings. She later claimed her father and other men he knew raped her regularly, dating back to when she was just five.

Early on, Beets took to acting out and gut busted for public lewdness. Upon turning 15, seeking stability, she accepted a marriage proposal from Robert Franklin Branson. The union lasted 14 years, with breakups and violence allegations along the way to a 1969 divorce. Branson did manage to get out alive and in one piece. Such would not be common for Beets’ husbands going forward.

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In 1970, Beets married Billy York Lane. The combative relationship climaxed with Lane breaking Beets’ nose, to which she responded by shooting him twice in the back of the head. Police filed no charges, though, believing Beets acted in self-defense. Remarkably, Lane survived the wounds. Unremarkably, the marriage did not.

From there, Beets dated Ronnie Thekhold and they got hitched in 1978. The following year, Beets ran down Threkhold with her car and plowed into him. He, too, lived and quickly contacted a divorce attorney.

Shortly after splitting from Threkhold, Beets took husband #4, Doyle Wayne Baker. They stuck it out for just seven weeks and officially broke it off in 1980. Regardless, Beets shot Baker to death and buried him deep in her backyard.

Baker’s whereabouts remained undiscovered for three years — until searchers dug up both Baker and the body of Betty Lou’s fifth husband, Jimmy Don Beets. Both had been done in by a .38-caliber pistol.

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Jimmy Don and Betty Lou wed one another in 1982. In August 1983, Betty Lou reported that he’d gone fishing and never returned. Several days later, Jimmy Don’s fishing boat washed ashore, with his heart medicine pills scattered about inside it.

Police seemed satisfied, at least for a while, that Jimmy Don likely suffered some kind of cardiac incident, fell overboard, and drowned.

In fact, though, Betty Lou had killed Jimmy Don, and then got her son Robert Branson Jr. to both help her hide the remains and ditch the boat — with the heart pills — afloat on a nearby lake.

A tip two years later prompted the Henderson County Sheriff to reopen the case. Investigators tore up Beets’ property and unearthed the two dead husbands stuffed deep beneath a filled-in wishing well.

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In court, Beets claimed her son and daughter had committed the murders. Both children testified against her, as did Beets’ two surviving spouses. The jury found her guilty and voted to sentence her to die.

Citing a lifetime of mental anguish and extreme abuse, attorneys and anti-domestic-violence advocates repeatedly worked to get her sentenced commuted to life in prison, but to no avail.

Governor George W. Bush not only proved unsympathetic, he took time from his 2000 presidential campaign to return to Texas specifically to be on hand for Betty Lou Beets’ breathing her last in his state’s execution chamber.

For more on Betty Lou Beets, watch the “Behind the Mask” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Deadly Women on ID GO now!

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Main photos: Betty Lou Beets [Texas Department of Criminal Justice]

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